Hard water is fast becoming one of angler's favorite pastimes. Fishermen around the world are becoming more educated on procedures and getting into the action.
Preparation is the key to success.
The 1st thing to consider is safety. Always bring a life preserver and even a 20+ foot length of rope. Check the ice often. Crystal clear ice, which is the strongest, should be
at least 3" thick and cloudy or gray ice should be at least 6" thick. Remember, the life you save may be your OWN.
Next, the best thing to do is to try and find unused and underused lakes and ponds. Water depth should be
at least 25-30 feet deep with muddy flats, to avoid winterkill situations. A good place to start is with a map. They will show the locations of points, drop-offs, and the like. They will also show where reeds, cattails, and under-water vegetation are. Those can be good indicators of whether
there are good populations of panfish. Look for any under-water springs or other discharges which may introduce warmer water. Check with the state DNR to see if there are any fish stocking or survey reports.
When ice covers the water, the fish move deeper to warmer areas. Bluegills are usually highest in the water column, at 10-20 feet. Perch and crappie are normally found in the 20-50 foot range. For some reason crappie come up to within a few feet of the ice at night. If possible try to locate newly fallen trees or other new structure. Those items offer protection, are fertile, and hold many things fish like to eat.
The tackle is fairly basic. A small jigging rod and reel, an assortment of jigs, jigging spoons, ice flies, and bait (waxworms, mealworms, and pieces of crawlers). Light line is used #1, because the fish caught are usually small, and # 2, It remains limber to allow the bait to fall more naturally and quickly to the bottom. When jigging it will allow for more action. Jigging spoons are good because they displace water and flash in the dim light. Always use small amounts of bait, just enough not to retard the action of the spoon or jig. Scents are great, but you have to match the forage available.
Finding the fish in large schools is the primary objective. One method is to drill 3 or 4 holes leading to deeper water. Drop in a fish locator or fish the holes to see what's happening down there. On points drill in a "C" figure. Once the fish are located, you'll
probably have to try different colors, baits, and presentations to produce
consistent bites. Slowly lower your bait or lure towards the fish. Aggressive
fish will come up and strike the bait. They might not be the biggest fish in the water, but they will provide action.
If the fish are active, you can use a float and bobber with light-weight spoons, especially light-weight ice flies, tear-drops, or bait rigs. To rig a float slide, 1st
slide your line through a bead, next through a bobber or float, and then tie on your lure. With a
separate piece of heavy line, tie 2 overhand knots onto the main line, cinch down, and trim the ends. You can then slide the knot up or down to reach the desired depth. A small trimmed knot will not interfere when reeled in.
To try and provoke strikes, try a slow jigging sequence. Be careful not to overdo the jigging motions though. If the lure is raised to quickly the fish may flee. Most fish associate quick vertical movement with trouble and head for cover. Raise the bait about 1 foot and let it fall freely. Try changing your presentation to make your bait pulse, lift, and pump in the water in short, slow bursts. Natural prey for panfish is slow-moving and small, so keep your movements slow and
leisurely to give yourself the best chance.